Washington Updates

2008 Washington Updates

The OSA Public Policy staff is pleased to provide you with Washington Updates, where you will find up-to-date information on legislation, events, and other activities happening in Washington, D.C. that affect the optics and photonics community. We welcome your feedback on any of these issues and invite you to use the comment section included with each post. You can also contact the OSA government relations team directly if you'd like more information on a particular.


Obama Names Science Team

President-Elect Obama named several key members of his science team earlier this week, including former AAAS President John Holdren as assistant to the president for science and technology, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and co-chair of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Harold Varmus, former NIH director and current director of the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Eric Lander of MIT will serve as co-chairs of PCAST.

Obama highlighted his commitment to science in his weekly radio address, saying, "The truth is that promoting science isn't just about providing resources—it's about protecting free and open inquiry. It's about ensuring that facts and evidence are never twisted or obscured by politics or ideology. It's about listening to what our scientists have to say, even when it's inconvenient—especially when it's inconvenient. Because the highest purpose of science is the search for knowledge, truth and a greater understanding of the world around us. That will be my goal as President of the United States—and I could not have a better team to guide me in this work."

More information is available by viewing Obama's radio address.

Posted: December 19, 2008


House Science & Technology Committee Outlines 2009 Agenda

House Science & Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) held a briefing yesterday laying out the committee's priorities for the 111th Congress. Chairman Gordon identified energy technology development, climate and weather monitoring, math and science education programs, nanotechnology, the space program, aviation research, and technical standards for industries from energy to health care to telecommunications as key issues for 2009.

"There's a misperception that we cannot afford to invest in science because of the current economic conditions. I believe that investing in science and developing new technologies is the path to reinvigorating our economy, growing jobs, meeting our energy needs, and helping us address climate change," Gordon said.

The committee's agenda includes eight specific categories:

  • Innovation: Maintaining Our Competitiveness
  • Energy: Developing Clean Technologies
  • Workforce: Creating Jobs of the Future
  • Environment: Protecting Our Natural Resources
  • Space: Exploring and Inspiring
  • Transportation: Building New Types of Infrastructure
  • Security: Protecting People from Natural and Man-Made Threats
  • Investigations and Oversight: Uncovering Mismanagement and Restoring Scientific Integrity

Posted: December 19, 2008


House Leaders Express Support for Science

Earlier this week, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi convened a meeting at Princeton University with Democratic members of Congress and leaders from academia, industry, and research associations to discuss the importance of increased investments in science as a way to spur the economy. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), a plasma physicist, was in attendance. Speaker Pelosi told Time magazine after the meeting, "If you want to know our agenda for this new Congress, remember four words: science, science, science and science." Rep. Holt spoke about the need to improve teacher training in math, science and engineering, and to expand broadband Internet access nationwide.

The 111th Congress will be sworn in on Jan. 6, 2009 and will quickly get to work on funding decisions that include R&D funding. President-elect Obama has expressed his interest in legislation designed to stimulate the economy. Efforts are underway to ensure that increased funding for R&D is included in a package. In addition, Congress must finalize funding levels for FY 2009. In October, Congress passed a continuing resolution to provide funding for most of the federal agencies until March 6, 2009. In addition, they traditionally begin work in the FY 2010 funding bills during the spring.

For a full report on the Princeton meeting, read the Time magazine article.

Posted: December 18, 2008


Obama Names Technology & Innovation Agenda Team

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama recently named a team of individuals to lead his innovation agenda, which is a set of policy priorities related to science and technology. The team of more than 30 individuals from varying industries is called the Technology, Innovation & Government Reform Working Group and will be divided into sub-committees in four category areas: Innovation and Government, Innovation and National Priorities, Innovation and Science, Innovation and Civil Society.

According to Change.gov, the President-elect's transition Web site, the group "will help prepare the incoming Administration to implement the Innovation Agenda, which includes a range of proposals to create a 21st century government that is more open and effective; leverages technology to grow the economy, create jobs, and solve our country's most pressing problems; respects the integrity of and renews our commitment to science; and catalyzes active citizenship and partnerships in shared governance with civil society institutions."

Information on Obama's innovation agenda is available on the president-elect's transition Web site.

Posted: December 11, 2008


Post-Election Analysis and Outlook

OSA has provided a post-election analysis exploring what may be in store for science policy in the U.S. under the new Obama Administration and Democratic-controlled Congress. The analysis is available on OSA's Web site.

Covered in the document is a discussion of the priorities on which Obama is likely to focus, the make-up of key congressional committees and the direction various S&T issues are likely to take.

For more information, see our analysis.

Posted: December 2, 2008


Department of Defense Announces New Basic Research Opportunities

On Nov. 7, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced plans to invest an additional $400 million over the next five years to support basic research at academic institutions. The Department of Defense (DoD) aims to "sustain and strengthen the nation's commitment to long-term basic research," as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences' "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report and to address similar recommendations from numerous other independent national security and scientific advisory groups.

Topics for the initial funding will focus on the following areas of technical challenge: network sciences, energy and power management, quantum information sciences, human sciences, science of autonomy, information assurance, biosensors and bio-inspired systems. Funding for the merit-based awards will begin in Fiscal Year 2009 and will be funded for five years.

More information is available on the DoD's Web site.

Posted: November 14, 2008


News Outlets Explore Science in an Obama Administration

As President-Elect Barack Obama prepares to transition to the White House, news outlets are abuzz with how various issues and policies will fare under the new Administration. Below are links to articles and podcasts exploring what science policy may look like under a new Administration.

ABC News - Science in a Post-Bush World

NPR's Science Friday - Science Challenges for the Next Administration

Scientific American - The Day After: Science in the Obama Administration

Posted: November 11, 2008


Defense Basic and Applied Research Accounts Get Increases

As noted in the October 3 Washington Update, the U.S. government is operating under a continuing resolution (CR) through March 6, 2009 for Fiscal Year (FY) 2009. One exception is the Department of Defense (DOD), which received funding for the entire FY 2009. While most government agencies will receive flat funding under the CR, two science & technology-related accounts at DOD, 6.1 Basic Research and 6.2 Applied Research, saw increases. The 6.1 account will get an increase of 12.7 percent over last year, from $1,634 million to $1,842 million. The 6.2 account received a 1.1 percent boost to $5,113 million from $5,058 million.

Posted: October 16, 2008


Congress Extends Tax Credits for Solar Investments, R&D

Solar Investment Tax Credits

In the final days of the 110th Congress, legislation was passed to extend the solar investment tax credits set to expire at the end of the year. The extension, scheduled to take place for property placed in service after December 31, 2008, would extend for 8 years the 30-percent tax credit for both residential and commercial solar installations. In addition, the $2,000 monetary cap for residential solar electric installations would be eliminated and Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) filers, both businesses and individuals, would be allowed to take the credit.

The extension was part of the $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, designed to address the financial crisis.

R&D Tax Credit

Also included in the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 was a two-year extension of the R&D tax credit, which expired at the end of 2007. The tax credit can cover up to 20 percent of qualified R&D spending. It has expired 13 times since 1981 despite calls by tech, pharmaceutical and manufacturing groups to make the tax credit permanent.

Posted: October 15, 2008


Federal Agencies Funded Through March 6, 2009

On September 30, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law a continuing resolution (CR) that will keep the government operating at Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 levels through March 6, 2009. FY 2008 ended September 30, 2008 without a single funding bill passed by Congress. Therefore, a CR was needed to keep governmental agencies operating. The CR means flat funding for key science agencies like the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Standards and Technology and DOE Office of Science, who were already operating on reduced budget in FY 2008.

Funding for the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs was extended beyond March, through the entire FY 2009. It remains unclear if the funding for the Department of Defense includes any increases for S&T programs.

Posted: October 3, 2008


FY 2009 Funding Update

The end of FY 2008 will come to a close Sept. 30, 2008. However, none of the 12 FY 2009 appropriations bills have been enacted. In order to keep the U.S. government running, Congress will instead pass a continuing resolution (CR) to provide funding for all of the government agencies through March 6, 2009. At that time, a new Administration will be in place and it is the hope of Democratic leaders in Congress to negotiate with a President that has similar funding priorities.

The details of the CR that have been released show no increases for science and technology (S&T) funding at NSF, NIST and DOE Office of Science. These agencies will remain level funded at the FY 2008 levels. DOD and the Department of Homeland Security will receive increases, although it is unclear at this time whether any additional funding will be provided for S&T at these agencies.

The House of Representatives is expected to consider the legislation today, and then send it over to the Senate for consideration. Assuming the Senate passes the legislation without any changes, it will then be sent to the President for his signature.

Posted: September 24, 2008


Senate Extends Solar Investment Tax Credits

Today, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a massive tax relief package that contains an extension of the solar investment tax credits set to expire at the end of the year. As reported in an earlier Washington Update, the House has also passed a tax bill that includes an extension of the solar tax credit. The two sides must come together and work out the differences between the two bills before sending it to the President for his signature. Congress is attempting to complete its work by the end of this week so the members can go home to their states and districts before the November elections.

Posted: September 23, 2008


U.S. House Proposes Solar Tax Credit Extension

The Senate has put forth a proposal to extend the solar tax credit set to expire at the end of this year. The proposal adds eight years to the investment tax credit for commercial solar projects and extends the residential solar credits for two years. The annual cap of $2,000 is removed.

The extension is part of a massive package of tax-cut extensions including a "patch" to prevent the alternative minimum tax (AMT) from hitting millions of people. The Senate is expected to consider the measure in the next several days. At this time, it is unclear whether the House of Representatives will consider the package before adjourning for the year. The House has passed an extension of the solar tax credit on five different occasions in the 110th Congress. However, there is a strong desire to have all of the measures in the package paid for or offset by cutting other costs within the Federal government.

Posted: September 17, 2008


Congress Approves Higher Education Reforms

On July 31, both the House of Representatives and the Senate overwhelmingly approved H.R. 4137, the Higher Education Opportunity Act. The act overhauls federal higher education programs, including those dealing with student financial assistance, aid to institutions, K-12 teacher preparation and assistance to help students complete high school and enter post-secondary education. The science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education community, including OSA and other scientific societies, pushed to get STEM education programs included in the final bill. As a result of these efforts, the final bill includes provisions that would:

  • Create programs to bolster students' interest in science and technology through collaborations with businesses and other stakeholders.
  • Improve teacher training and development programs and focus on recruiting teachers into high demand science and technology fields.
  • Require the Department of Education to establish a public database containing information on scholarships, fellowships, and other programs of financial assistance available from public and private sources for the study of STEM fields at the post-secondary and post-baccalaureate levels.
  • Create and enhance programs designed to encourage underrepresented minority youth to engage and ultimately pursue careers in STEM fields.

The bill will now be sent to President Bush for his signature.

Posted: August 4, 2008


Small Business Legislation Moves to Full Senate Vote

The Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship approved legislation yesterday to reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) programs for 14 years. SBIR and STTR are the largest source of federal support for private-sector technological innovation, providing $2.3 billion annually to small, high-tech entrepreneurial companies.

This spring, the full House passed their version of SBIR and STTR reauthorization legislation. The primary difference between the two bills is that under the House bill, SBIR would be reauthorized for two years while STTR for one year. Both bills allow funding to go to venture capital backed companies. However, the Senate bill places limits on how much funding could go to these companies. For instance, NIH would only be able to apply up to 18 percent of its SBIR funds to companies in which venture capital firms own a majority stake. The other participating federal agencies would be allowed to allocate up to 8 percent.

The full Senate must now vote on the legislation and then it will be sent to a joint House and Senate conference committee.

Posted: July 31, 2008


Technology Innovation Program Seeking Proposals

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently announced that the Technology Innovation Program (TIP) is seeking proposals for high-risk research projects to develop innovative technologies for inspecting, monitoring and evaluating critical components of the nation's roadways, bridges, and drinking and wastewater systems. $9 million is available in the first year funding for "R&D projects focused on new, efficient, accurate, low-cost and reliable sensors and related technologies that provide quantitative assessments of the structural integrity or degree of deterioration of bridges, roads, water mains and wastewater collection systems."

TIP was created as part of the America COMPETES Act signed into U.S. law in August of 2007. The legislation sets annual goals for significant new investments in federal research and key post-secondary and graduate education programs that will lead to greater advancements and innovation in all sectors of society.

Posted: July 28, 2008


Science Programs Receive Additional Funding in FY08 Supplemental Bill

The Fiscal Year 2008 Appropriations Bill that was signed into law in December 2007 included flat funding or cuts for most federal science programs. Efforts by legislators and outside science groups, including OSA, to get additional funding for science included in the FY08 Supplemental Appropriations Bill have been underway for six months. On June 30, President Bush signed the Supplemental Bill that included an additional $337.5 billion spread across four science agencies, including the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy Office of Science.

More details on the supplemental bill can be found on the American Institute of Physics' FYI Science Policy Bulletin.

Posted: July 15, 2008


FY 09 Appropriations Process Begins in Congress

The U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have started the appropriations (funding) process for Fiscal Year 2009, which will begin October 1, 2008. The House Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations Subcommittee approved their funding bill in early June. The bill included a total of $26 billion for investments in science, technology andminnovation, which is an increase of $1.7 billion over last year. The subcommittee recommendation provides $6.9 billion for the National Science Foundation and $785 million for NIST, which restores proposed cuts to the manufacturing enhancement partnerships and the technology innovation program. The Senate version included $6.85 million for NSF and $638 million for NIST. The Full Appropriations Committees of both the House and Senate approved both bills in late June, where they now await consideration on the full House and Senate floors.

For more detailed information on these and other FY09 appropriations related to scientific R&D and education, check OSA's Appropriations Tracker.

Posted: July 7, 2008

Article Highlight Need for Increased R&D Investments

Below are recent editorials and news articles on the need for increased federal investment in scientific R&D:

Is the U.S. Losing Its Research Edge? - Telephony

Posted: June 18, 2008


House Bill Provides Funds for Alternative Energy Use in Public Schools

Yesterday, the House passed the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public School Facilities Act (H.R. 3021), which "provides funding to states and school districts to help ensure that school facilities and learning environments are safe, healthy, energy efficient, environmentally friendly, and technologically up-to-date." Included in the bill is an amendment by Reps. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.) and Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) that adds an allowable use of funds for renewable energy generation and heating systems, including solar, photovoltaic, wind, geothermal, or biomass.

Posted: June 5, 2008


Rep. Gordon Touts Science Funding in Washington Post Letter

House Science and Technology Committee Chairman Bart Gordon today responded to a May 29 article in the Washington Post on the United States' "loss of stature in the world of science" with a letter to the editor calling for Congress to "heed the recommendations of the National Academies and move forward with the America Competes Act, to ensure our nation's competitive position in the world through improvements to math and science education and a strong commitment to research."

Posted: June 4, 2008


Senate Signals Support for Supplemental Science Funding

The Senate voted this week to include additional funding for science programs in the Supplemental Appropriations Bill, designed to increase funding for the war and other programs. Out of $193 billion of funds in the bill, the Committee allocated $1.2 billion for programs at NASA, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the National Institutes of Health.

The House has passed its version of the supplemental funding bill, which did not include additional funding for science programs. The House and Senate must now meet in a conference committee to hash out the differences between the two bills. President Bush is expected to veto any version of the bill that includes funding for domestic programs, including the science funding.

Posted: May 20, 2008


House Passes Small Business Legislation

On April 29, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.R. 5819, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and the Small Business Technology Transfer Act (STTR). SBIR and STTR are the largest source of federal support for private-sector technological innovation providing $2.3 billion annually to small, high-tech entrepreneurial companies. The legislation seeks to increase funding available for grants, simplify the application process, broaden technical assistance, and create a more flexible proves for the Federal agencies that participate in the programs. In addition, H.R. 5819 clarifies that firms with venture capital are eligible for SBIR and STTR grants provided they meet specific criteria outlined in the bill.

The legislation must now be considered by the Senate. Once the full Senate has considered and passed this bill, it will go to a joint House and Senate conference committee to work out any differences and then to the President for his signature.

Posted: April 29, 2008


Senators Support R&D Funding in FY 2008 Supplemental Bill

Eight senators, including the 2007 Advocate of Optics, Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), wrote a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee urging an additional $350 million be allocated to the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy Office of Science in Fiscal Year (FY) 2008. There is consensus on Capitol Hill and within the scientific community that these key R&D agencies received inadequate funding as part of the FY 2008 omnibus funding bill signed into law in December 2007.

There is an opportunity to increase the funding as part of the FY 2008 supplemental bill, which will be considered by Congress in late April. Supplemental bills are used by Congress to cover unanticipated expenses or emergency needs that arise after the appropriations for a given fiscal year have been approved. The primary purpose of the FY 2008 supplemental appropriations bill is to cover costs of the Iraq war. However, there is an opportunity to increase funding for additional programs, such as science education and research.

Posted: April 1, 2008


OSA Names 2008 Advocates of Optics

Viviane Reding, European commissioner for information society and media, and Thierry Van der Pyl, head of the Commission's Photonics Unit, were recognized today as OSA's 2008 Advocates of Optics. Reding was selected as this year's advocate for her extraordinary vision in supporting and establishing a Photonics Unit within the European Commission. Van der Pyl is being recognized for his leadership within the Photonics Unit.

To be recognized as an OSA Advocate of Optics, a public official must have a record consistent with his or her support of science, optics and photonics and be an enthusiastic advocate for science policy issues, with particular regard to the advancement of the science of light.

Posted: March 19, 2008


New Physicist in Congress

The number of Ph.D. physicists in Congress has grown from two to three with the election of Bill Foster of Illinois. Rep. Foster was officially sworn in today to the U.S. House of Representatives after winning a special election to replace former House Speaker Dennis Hastert who retired at the end of 2007. He joins fellow physicists Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) and Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.).

Foster received his B.A. in physics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his Ph.D. in experimental physics from Harvard. He spent more than two decades at Fermilab, mostly working on particle accelerators. In recent years, he has run a family business focused on theatre lighting.

Posted: March 11, 2008


OSA Members Visit Capitol Hill

OSA and the Optoelectronics Industry Development Association (OIDA) joined forces yesterday for the annual Congressional Visits Day (CVD), sponsored by the Science-Engineering-Technology Working Group. During this day, hundreds of scientists and engineers, including 16 from OSA & OIDA, visited their members of Congress to discuss the need for increased investments in R&D funding as part of the Fiscal Year 2009 funding bills. By sharing personal stories of their experiences as professionals in the field of optics and photonics and by pointing out specific optics-related advances that have been discovered and developed as a result of federal funding, the participants hoped to show the lawmakers that increased funding is an investment in America's future, not an expense.

If you're interested in joining future Congressional Visits Day events, please sign up for OSA's Optics Legislative Network.

Posted: March 6, 2008


Solar Tax Credits Advance in Congress

The U.S. House of Representatives today passed legislation to extend tax credits for wind and solar energy that are set to expire Dec. 31. The legislation would also extend and modify incentives for constructing renewable-fuel pumps at gasoline stations and includes new incentives for cellulosic ethanol and plug-in hybrid vehicles. In order to pay for the extensions, the proposal would repeal a manufacturing tax deduction for five major oil and gas companies, and change how energy companies' foreign earnings are taxed.

The Housed passed similar provisions four times last year but has met opposition in the Senate from Republicans who are opposed to stripping tax benefits for the oil and gas companies.

For more information on the bill, visit the Library of Congress' Thomas Web site

Posted: February 27, 2008.


FY 2009 Budget Released

On February 4, President Bush released his proposed FY 2009 budget which outlines his priorities for the next fiscal year. R&D funding fared well in the budget. NSF is slated to receive a 13% increase while NIST Core programs would increase 5% and the DOE Office of Science by 19% over FY 2008 levels. To view the specific funding levels, please visit the budget tracker. These increases are a result of the strong authorizing levels outlined in America COMPETES Act which was unanimously passed and signed into law by the President last year. The authorizing act doubles funding for key science agencies over several years. Unfortunately, the final amounts appropriated for FY 2008 did not match the high levels in the COMPETES Act.

The next step of the budget process is for Congress to outline and craft their version of the spending bills as part of the annual appropriations process. Please continue to visit this web page for updated information.

Posted: February 21, 2008


President Calls on Congress to Double Physical Sciences Funding

In his final State of the Union address last night, President Bush called upon Congress to keep America competitive in the future by doubling federal support for basic research in the physical sciences. Last year, the landmark America COMPETES Act was unanimously passed and signed into law by the President. The authorizing act doubles funding for key science agencies over several years. Unfortunately, the final amounts appropriated for FY 2008 did not match the high levels in the COMPETES Act.

Next week, the President will submit his FY 2009 budget outline to Congress. Congress will then begin the process of determining the funding levels for the different agencies. During this time, it is critical that your Members of Congress hear directly from you about the importance of an increased investment in science. Check here for more information on how to speak directly with your legislators about this issue.

Posted: January 29, 2008


Where do the Presidential Candidates Stand on Science?

As the race for the White House heats up in 2008, you may be wondering where the candidates stand on issues that affect you as a member of the scientific community. The Web sites listed below all include comprehensive tracking of the candidates' stances on issues like funding for R&D, math and science education and energy issues.

Physics Today - Campaign 2008

AAAS - Science & Technology in the 2008 Presidential Election

Popular Mechanics - Geek the Vote 2008

Posted: January 29, 2008

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